Alfred Hitchcock would hardly recognize the fishing village he made famous in The Birds in 1963. The lunch counter where the movie’s villagers took refuge from the murderous seagulls has been transformed into a tourist-destination factory restaurant. Kite shops and salt-water taffy stands line Hwy 1, and hardly anybody ambles down the clackety old fishing docks anymore—least of all, fur-clad ladies in white gloves.
But the dramatic coastal landscape remains. Plan to spend time outdoors; otherwise it’s not worth coming here. Hike atop windswept Bodega Head, alongside the San Andreas fault, and peer down 275 feet to fog-shrouded coves. Ride horseback up forested canyons where salmon still spawn. Laze on a sandy beach with your sweetheart—but know that the ocean here is treacherous: a torrent of rip currents makes it unsafe for swimming. Danger aside, the roaring waves are mesmerizing.
The town has no center point, nowhere to stroll, and frankly there isn’t much to do. But if you’re short on time, Bodega Bay is close enough for a one-nighter, and far enough to make you feel you’ve gotten away. And if you have to, you can be back at work the next morning.
- Get a taste for the North Coast, without the long drive.
- Hike the San Andreas fault, high above the surf.
- Get hip to the coolest restaurant on the Sonoma Coast.
- Explore the landscape Hitchcock captured in The Birds.
- 90 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Nothing to do after 8pm; bring Scrabble and a date.
- Weekend crowds; head further north for more quiet.
- Nowhere to walk; plan to drive everywhere.
- Limited lodging of merit; book ahead for places we recommend.
See & Do
It’s all about the outdoors in Bodega Bay. Head west of the bay to stroll the wide-open bluffs atop Bodega Head, and trip out on the drop-dead vistas of land and sea. Shaped like a giant crooked finger jutting into the Pacific, the Bodega Head peninsula separates the town’s eponymous bay from the ocean. Look south and spot the geologically related Point Reyes, looming on the horizon. Bring binoculars, and hold on to your hat—there’s a reason they call it ‘Blow-dega Head.’ Pick up a stunt kite at Candy & Kites to fly along the trail.
Check it out: In the mid-1960s PG&E stupidly began building a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head—smack dab on the San Andreas Fault. Duh. Fortunately they hadn’t bothered to secure the necessary permits, and the Atomic Energy Commission shut ‘em down.
But they dug a giant pit—still visible today—before construction was halted. Locals call it the “Hole in the Head.” Nature has transformed the pit into a lushly banked pond, which has become a magnet for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway—small miracles sometimes come from big mistakes. Take Bay Flat Rd east about 3mi to the bay side of Campbell Cove. Read more about how locals saved the Marin-Sonoma Coast from development; it’s a great story.
The craggy coastline of Sonoma Coast State Beach extends for 17 miles, from Bodega Head to four miles north of Jenner, where the Russian River pours into the sea. My favorite spot is Goat Rock Beach, where a nearby harbor-seal colony lazes on the rocks. For more on the beaches, read my write-up in our Sonoma-Mendocino Coast guide.
Ride horseback along the beach or up Salmon Creek canyon with Chanslor Riding Stables. Kids love the pony rides. (Alas, the ranch is for sale and because of its zoning, it might soon be developed into a hotel. Bummer. Call ahead.) Bodega Bay Surf Shack rents bicycles, kayaks, and surfboards, and also teaches surfing. Near town, there’s great kayaking on quiet inland waterways perfect for bird-watching; Bodega Bay Kayak knows the best spots. Or take to the sea aboard a fishing vessel or whale-watching tour (December through April) with Bodega Bay Sportfishing Center.
In town, there’s little to do other than peruse the collection of contemporary Japanese art at the Ren Brown Collection Gallery; or taste wine at Gourmet Au Bay, where you can sit on a waterview deck and sample local vintages—a great end to the afternoon, but come before 6pm.
Like scenic drives? This one’s a beauty. Head to Coleman Valley Road, one of California’s most spectacular back roads (really)—the landscape looks like a plein-air painting come to life. Read more about driving Coleman Valley Road in our guide to Occidental.
Hitchcock fans: Head five miles east of Bodega Bay to the little town of Bodega. Snap pix of the Victorian Potter Schoolhouse, and get chills as you recall the scene in The Birds when screaming schoolchildren fled beneath a sky blackened with attacking ravens. Head up the hill for the best shots.
Shop way-cool galleries and an awesome vintage-European-clothing store in nearby Occidental, a hippie-dippie 19th-century main-street town tucked in the redwoods, just 20 minutes from Bodega Bay. Best of all, you can park your car and walk everywhere, something you can’t do in downtown-less Bodega Bay.
Bodega Bay Restaurants
The best reason—by far—to visit Bodega Bay is to eat at Seaweed Café, hangout of local bohos, art freaks, and food fetishists. French-born chef Jackie Martine is obsessive about the seasonal-regional credo of the Slow Food movement, and she exclusively uses organic ingredients sourced from farms within a 30-mile radius of the restaurant. Even the wines originate from west of Hwy 101. The Euro-Cal menu features unusual cuts of local meat—quail, squab, lamb, and wild salmon—all perfectly prepared using only a handful of ultra-fresh ingredients so the food’s natural flavors shine through. Ask about art-centric events, including readings by local writers. Open Thursday to Monday, dinner only. Weekend brunch. Reservations essential.
What a find! The classic West Coast crab shack, Spud Point Crab Co. uses its own boats to fish for crab, which it unloads right in front of the restaurant. In season, order the succulent crab sandwiches and cocktails. Otherwise, choose the clam chowder or wild salmon. The place ain’t fancy—it looks more like a fish market than a restaurant—and seating is outside at picnic tables overlooking the boats in the adjacent marina. Arrive before 5pm, closing time.
If you’re craving fried fish and tartar sauce, skip the touristy Lucas Wharf and the Tides, and instead head to Sandpiper Dockside Cafe & Restaurant, where the locals eat. Think lemon wedge and parsley sprig. There’s breakfast too. Take the kids for hot dogs, hand-cut fries, and old-fashioned milkshakes at the Dog House, overlooking the Marina. It’s off Hwy 1, behind the Bodega Coast Inn. NB: it closes at 6pm.
- $ = entrées under $10
- $$ = $10 to $15
- $$$ = $16 to $22
- $$$$ = $22 and up
Bodega Bay Hotels and Inns
Fog horns blare all night in Bodega Bay, romantic to some, annoying to others. Pack ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper. Alternatively stay in Occidental.
On the budget end, the family-run Branscomb’s Bodega Bay Inn ($–$$$) is part B&B, part local-art gallery, with scores of paintings adorning the walls. The converted house feels more like an up-market hostel than a coastal inn, but the rates are good and there’s a big backyard garden where you can take your continental breakfast. It’s a bit folksy, but the Branscombs works hard to maintain the place, and they’re nice people. If you require anonymity, choose somewhere else.
Bodega Harbor Inn ($) has the best rates in town, but needs a serious fluff job. It’s basically a motel with rooms in blue-and-white-shingled cottages. It’ll do in a pinch if you’re tight on cash. The motel’s rental houses ($$–$$$) are not well maintained. If you really want to rent a house, you’ll do way better in Sea Ranch, up the coast.
The top digs in town, the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa ($$$–$$$$) has ocean-view rooms in several satellite buildings clustered behind a marsh and nature preserve. The business-class amenities include all the usuals like down pillows and triple-sheeted beds; there’s also a good-sized pool and outdoor hot tub. Upgraded rooms have wood-burning fireplaces; book an upstairs unit for the best views, or splurge on a suite for wide-open ocean vistas. NB: The hotel is getting a much-needed renovation; book a room that’s been redone or expect lackluster furnishings. Skip the Duck Club restaurant.
Alas, the Chanslor Ranch is no longer renting rooms in its farmhouse. The place is up for sale and may be turned into a hotel. Fingers crossed that developers don’t build something hideous on this gorgeous site.
- $ = standard double under $100
- $$ = $100 to $200
- $$$ = $200 to $300
- $$$$ = $300 & up